One thing that separates YULA students from most high school students is what they choose to do once they finish high school. A large majority of YULA seniors choose to spend a gap year in Israel after graduation. Some spend a year in yeshiva, some spend a year in the army, and some go to an Israeli university. During the inter-semester January break, 13 YULA seniors had the opportunity to travel to Israel and spend a week exploring their different gap-year options. Led by YULA rebbeim, Rabbi Abramczik, Rabbi Baalhaness, and Rabbi Schreiber, the boys spent the week with a packed schedule. Each day consisted of a visit to three or four different yeshivot before lunch, followed by various activities and touring throughout Israel. “The schedule didn’t leave much room to relax, but that’s one of the things that made the trip so great,” said YULA senior Adam Liber. The students landed on Monday, and spent Tuesday morning visiting four yeshivot, followed by an afternoon at Caliber 3, a counter-terrorist training unit. There, the boys learned about the different methods Israeli soldiers use to fight terrorism. After their yeshiva visits on Wednesday, the boys went to see Rav Chaim Kaneivsky and receive brachot from him. Then they spent the night at the blind museum in Tel Aviv, experiencing what it would be like to live without the gift of sight. “The museum visit really made a big impact on me,” said trip participant Yashar Roshenshad, “it was very powerful experiencing what it would be like to be blind, and really made me value my sight.”
Throughout the trip, the students had a chance to learn more about many yeshivot. Each one had different opportunities to offer the students. The boys saw some yeshivot that emphasize gemara, while some emphasize student-guided learning. Amidst all the visits and information, speaking with former YULA students currently in yeshiva is what provided the seniors with the most realistic version of yeshiva life. Each graduate was an ambassador for their respective yeshiva, encouraging the visiting students to attend. According to Rabbi Schreiber, “witnessing the boys go through their “fact-finding mission” of discovering which yeshiva would best help them grow and watching them daven for clarity with this large decision was the most inspiring part of the trip”. While there were many inspiring moments throughout the week, including visits to the Kotel and Ma’arat Hamachpaila, and meeting with famous Rebbeim, one of the major highlights of the trip was a joint Shabbat in Yerushalayim. YULA graduates in yeshiva for the year joined the current students for an amazing Shabbaton. After Friday night davening at the Kotel and dancing with Israeli soldiers, the group of 60 current and former YULA students had a lively oneg which lasted late into the night. During Shabbat lunch, all of the YULA alumni now in yeshiva spoke, advocating for why the year in Israel is such a vital experience. On Sunday night, the boys returned home, filled with inspiration and more clarity on how they would each be spending the following year. “The trip was definitely life changing,” said senior Akiva Rogawski, “we did so much in one week, that I felt like I was in Israel for a month. I strongly urge every senior next year to come on this trip.” The decision now lies in the hands of the students, and it is up to them to decide how they will spend their gap year.